Winter can be a struggle for many bass fishermen, especially in the south east. Often times, the same techniques you use successfully during the other seasons will leave you with an empty bag big at the weigh-in. Times like this require stepping out of our comfort zone, and looking to our northern brothers for techniques that will get you bites, even in the coldest of water, could be the difference between a check and just a day on the water (which lets face it, isn’t ever a bad thing!) Some of the smallmouth techniques from northern waters can pay off when you’re targeting spotted and largemouth bass in the south, and it would be in your best interest to have some familiarity with them.
Blade baits will flat out catch fish, no matter where you are. The old school Silver Buddy can put a limit of bass in the boat during the winter, when your finesse crankbaits, jerkbaits, and other traditional cold water techniques won’t work. The subtle vibration and flash, combined with the “dying baitfish” fall triggers lethargic bass to eat. There are a few ways to work this style of bait, but the most common is to find main lake points, preferably with rocks, and use a lift and drop retrieve that will mimic a small shad that is on the verge of dying. Another technique that works is to crawl the blade bait over the rocks, like you would a lipless crankbait. The bait should just barely contact the bottom, using the rocks to deflect and bounce the bait erratically. The weight of the blade bait should be dictated by the depth the fish are holding in. Use a quarter ounce bait when you’re paralleling rip rap banks, and a half ounce bait when you’re working drops, channel swings, and main lake points. You only need 2 colors, gold and silver. You should go with gold on overcast days, silver on clear days.
Another technique that is often overlooked are hair jigs. We’re not talking about the bulky preacher jig style that have been in the spotlight lately. We’re talking 1/8th to 3/8th ounce pill head or ball head jigs, tied with marabou, rabbit strips, and hair from fox, deer and black bear. There are many good custom hair jig makers out there, like Jimmy D’s River Bugs and Punisher Lures. You can also experiment with tying your own with a few supplies from your local outdoor store, or fly tying supply company. When the water gets cold, bass tend to relate to the bottom. They will eat larvae, crayfish, and dying shad that roam and settle on the bottom. The basic colors that will succeed in most waters are black, brown and grey/white. Just like a traditional flipping jig, you are targeting specific places that will hold bass. Bottoms of rip rap banks and main lake docks close to deep water are prime places to fish with a hair jig. Make a long cast, and feed the jig some line to get a straight down drop, and slowly drag, pause and shake the bait back to the boat, keeping in contact with the bottom all the time. Use long pauses between the shakes and drags. The best setup for this technique is a medium action spinning setup with 6-8 pound fluorocarbon. Braid will also work, but fluorocarbon helps keep the bait in contact with the bottom.
The last bait is used when the lakes in the north freeze over, and more often for pike, perch, and crappie. Ice jigs are dropped through holes in the ice, on tiny spinning outfits, with 4 lb. line. Baits like the Rapala Jigging Shad Rap can be the ticket when you have bass targeting suspending baitfish. The ice jig is fished with a vertical presentation, using your electronics to find suspending baitfish, and using a countdown method to get the bait to the desired depth, then a lift and drop technique will keep the bait in the strike zone. The key here is subtle lifts and drops, not ripping and letting the bait fall on a slack line. You are looking to imitate a dying shad, and you can kill the bite by overworking the bait. Slowly lift up the rod tip and drop the bait, keeping an eye on your line. Most of the time with largemouth, you won’t feel the bite, the line will just get heavy, or will move from vertical. Spotted bass and Smallmouth are more aggressive, and you will know when one eats your bait.
The next time you have to bundle up to catch some bass, try a couple of these techniques to put some more fish in the boat. Often times, going to a finesse approach, slowing down, and showing the fish something they might not have seen before can be the difference between a big goose egg, and cashing that first tournament of the year check.
Good fishing Chris Allard